Child Abuse

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

How do physicians diagnose child abuse?

Many health-care professionals may help make the diagnosis of child abuse, including licensed mental-health therapists, pediatricians, other primary-care providers, specialists whom you see for a medical condition, emergency physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and social workers. One of these professionals will likely perform or refer for an extensive medical interview and physical examination as part of establishing the diagnosis. Child abuse may be associated with a number of other medical conditions, so routine laboratory tests are often performed during the initial evaluation to rule out other causes of symptoms. Occasionally, an X-ray, scan, or other imaging study may be needed, particularly if physical abuse is suspected. As part of this examination, the sufferer may be asked a series of questions from a standardized questionnaire or self-test to help assess the occurrence of child abuse. Thorough exploration for any history or presence of mental-health symptoms will be conducted such that child maltreatment can be distinguished from other sources of emotional problems.

What is the treatment for child abuse?

The treatment for child abuse involves first securing the safety of the child from further abuse and addressing any physical injuries from which the child may be suffering. As these interventions are occurring, child-welfare services work with law enforcement in assessing the safety of the child in the home, whether or not the child should be removed from that home and the potential need for further legal involvement as a result of the abuse allegations. When it is determined that sexual abuse has occurred, the perpetrator of the abuse is usually required to have their name included on a sexual offenders' registry, which will prevent them from working in settings that involve children and may impose legal penalties if the offender has any contact with people under 18 years of age.

Medical interventions may involve addressing a variety of issues, like treating broken bones, concussion, or other head injury associated with physical abuse, genital injuries, or sexually transmitted disease that may result from sexual abuse.

Addressing the emotional impact of child abuse on the victim is an important part of treatment of child maltreatment. The mental health of the child is usually assessed, either through screening questions or tests by the pediatrician or through a full mental-health assessment by a mental-health professional. If it is determined that the child is suffering from a mental-health condition, it will be treated through individual or group therapy, as well as medication treatment when appropriate.

Family oriented interventions for child abuse may involve providing the caretaker with classes on anger management to help them develop healthy ways to manage their anger, parenting classes as a means of improving their knowledge and implementation of parenting approaches that are appropriate for the child's age, developmental level, medical, mental, and emotional needs. Family interventions may also involve the use of a parent mentor to provide the caretaker with a role model from whom they can learn appropriate parenting skills. Family therapy involves family members meeting with a therapist and may be used to process and resolve family issues.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/21/2016

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